Over the counter medicines and prescribing

Your GP, nurse or pharmacist will not generally give you a prescription for over the counter medicines for a range of minor health concerns, including conditions, such as coughs and colds, upset stomach, headache and migraine.

Instead, over the counter medicines are available to buy in a pharmacy or supermarket in your local community.

The team of health professionals at your local pharmacy can offer help and clinical advice to manage minor health concerns and if your symptoms suggest it’s more serious, they’ll ensure you get the care you need.

Please help the NHS to use resources sensibly.

2016 Medicines Management Consultation

We consulted with our patients across Lincolnshire in 2016 and as a result developed a local CCG policy that restricted the prescribing of medicines which are available to buy over the counter for minor ailments and short-term, self-limiting conditions. It also limited the prescribing of certain gluten-free foods, baby milks and oral nutrition supplements.

In June 2017 NHS England published guidance for CCGs on Conditions for which over the counter items should not routinely be prescribed. This advice also recommends reducing spend on treating conditions that are self-limiting or which lend themselves to self-care, or on items for which there is little evidence of clinical effectiveness, these resources can be used for other higher priority areas that have a greater impact for patients, support improvements in services and/or deliver transformation that will ensure the long-term sustainability of the NHS. This guidance has been implemented and supersedes the Lincolnshire CCG policy. Download a copy of the Final Report on the Medicines Management Consultation

Exceptions to the new prescription rules

You may still be prescribed a medicine for a condition on the list if:

  • You need treatment for a long-term condition, e.g. regular pain relief for chronic arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease.

  • You need treatment for more complex forms of minor illnesses, e.g. migraines that are very bad and where over the counter medicines do not work.

  • You need an over the counter medicine to treat a side effect of a prescription medicine or symptom of another illness, e.g. constipation when taking certain painkillers.

  • The medicine has a licence which doesn’t allow the product to be sold over the counter to certain groups of patients. This could include babies, children or women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.

  • The person prescribing thinks that a patient cannot treat themselves, for example because of mental health problems or severe social vulnerability.

The reasons vary for each condition. Your GP, nurse or pharmacist will speak to you if this affects you.

Repeat prescriptions

The second important change we made was with how patients order repeat prescriptions. Those who choose to use a pharmacy to order repeat prescriptions on their behalf now instead have to order repeat prescriptions through their GP practice.

Designated carers, relatives or friends are still able to order on a patient’s behalf through GP practices.

The idea of this is to make prescribing safer for the patient and more cost efficient for the NHS. The change addresses a serious safety concern in that, under the old system, some patients found that they began to build up a stock of unused medicine, which had to be stored safely and used within date.

Where pharmacies ordered and dispenses medication on behalf of a patient, the patient did not always have the ability to notify their GP practice when medicines were no longer required.

If you need to ask your GP practice for a repeat prescription you can do this in a number of ways.

You can do this at the practice, online, via letter or at some practices over the phone.

These changes give the patient more control. It is vital NHS money is used as efficiently as possible in these difficult times. We need to prioritise our sickest patients.

We need to care for our NHS, so the NHS can care for us.

What can you do?

Keeping a few useful medicines at home means you can treat common conditions immediately without needing to see a healthcare professional. These could include:

  • Painkillers to help with pain, discomfort and fever

  • Indigestion medicines, oral rehydration salts and treatments for constipation and diarrhea

  • Treatments for seasonal conditions like colds and hay fever

  • Sunblock and after sun

  • Basic first aid items (for example plasters or antiseptic cream)

If you have children, make sure you also have products suitable for them. Speak to your local pharmacy team about what medicines to keep at home, where to store them safely and how to use them.

What if my symptoms don’t improve?

Your local pharmacy team can tell you how long to expect the symptoms of your condition to last. If they haven’t improved after this time or you start to feel a lot worse, you should:

  • Go back to the pharmacy for further advice

  • Call NHS111

  • Visit the ASAP Lincs website and download the app https://www.asaplincs.nhs.uk/

  • Contact your GP

  • Visit the NHS website www.nhs.uk and click on ‘Services near you’ to help you choose the right service A&E and 999 should only be used for serious and life-threatening emergencies

Finding more information and support

  • Visit the NHS website nhs.uk for information and advice on treating minor health concerns

  • Find out more about this change to prescription policy at: www.nhs.uk/OTCmedicines